By the look of their broad grins (tempered slightly by a certain nervousness in demeanour), it’s a great treat for some of the stars of one of Britain’s longest running soaps – Charles “The Prince” Windsor and “The Duchess” Camilla – to meet actual television royalty. Shown around Albert Square and mooching around Walford Market, Charles and his missus are greeted by such famous dignitaries as Princess Sharon of Watts (Letitia Dean), Kathy of Beale-Mitchell-Sullivan (Gillian Taylforth), and of course The King himself: HM King Michael, known to his subjects as Mick, By the Grace of Gawd, Scourge of that T**t Cameron, and Defender of the Queen Vic (Danny Dyer, direct descendant of William the Conqueror and Charlemagne, as it goes). Through all his trials he retains a serene dignity.
Of course, Charles and Camilla have had quite a few dramatic storylines of their own over the years. Affairs, a couple of divorces, a tragic death that no one likes to talk about very much, wayward, bickering kids, a dodgy younger brother the coppers came after. Back in 1992, viewers may remember when one of Charles’ chain of country house boozers, The Windsor Castle, got burned down – and it wasn’t even insured! No one believed the plot twist that the taxpayer would end up covering the damage, but there you go.
The Walford encounters remind me a bit of the famous story about the last war. During the Blitz, when Buckingham Palace was bombed by the Luftwaffe, King George and Queen Elizabeth (Charles’ grandparents) were sort of grateful for it, because they were “able to look the East End in the face”. With their back stories, Charles and Camilla could stride onto any television drama set in the world and not be embarrassed.
The gor-blimeyness is probably a bit overdone (the premise being that the good folk of Albert Square were expecting celebrity lookalikes fans than your actual royals) but it’s all very sweet, like televisual Platinum Pudding. Walford hasn’t been this excited since King William of Watts served his own divorce papers on the saintly Queen Angie, Duchess of Frizz, some decades ago. As we see them tour Albert Square, Camilla seems genuinely delighted to be knocking back the Trinidadian rum with Patrick (Rudolph Walker CBE). Charles looks slightly more like he was going through the motions with market trader Martin Fowler (James Bye).
The royals’ role is to meet real people, but these aren’t real people and I bet neither is Fowler’s “organic” fruit’n’veg (presumably soon to be sold in good old pounds and ounces). There were some quite heavy-handed references to royal causes – such as the Princes Trust, planting trees and domestic violence– crowbarred into the script, presumably as the quid pro quo for the visit. Still, there’s no harm in “raising awareness”, is there? I’m only surprised Charles didn’t start banging on about COP26 after he’d had a few drinks.
Her Gossiping Majesty Dot Cotton (June Brown), and Albert Square’s other late matriarch, Barbara Windsor (Peggy Mitchell) are sorely missed. Charles and Camilla do seem to enjoy playing themselves, though I reckon that Charles geezer could do with toning down his character’s arrayed mannerisms a bit. His hand is constantly resting in his jacket pocket; he points at things randomly, fiddles with his cuffs and scratches his upper lip before saying something daft. People might start thinking he’s not the real king thing.
Follow live updates from the Platinum Jubilee celebrations here.